About two weeks before Christmas, Deacon, an 85-pound German shepherd, went missing from his family home in rural Stuart, Va.
During the first couple of days, Pamela Holt, her husband Keith, and their daughter Brooklyn, 3, weren't terribly worried because they figured their nearly 2-year-old pet was running in the fields behind their home.
"We have a lot of land and thought Deacon might be enjoying the outdoors," Holt, who works as a teller for SunTrust bank, tells PEOPLEPets.com. "But we soon got worried and called the area dog warden, the pound and the sheriff's office. After two weeks, we gave up, fearing he had died or was stolen."
Deacon, a gift from Holt to her husband Keith, a teacher and football coach, had become a beloved family member, and everyone was upset. But a curious call in late February from a man in Deland, Fla., changed everything.
"A male voice on the other end said he thought he may have Deacon," Holt tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I was angry at first and thought he was a prankster trying to play a joke on us ... I nearly hung up on him."
The man, who said he was from Animal Control in Deland, told Holt he was looking at her dog. Holt said she thought Deacon was dead. But when he asked her if the dog's name was Bruno, Holt went crazy with joy.
"I was speechless," she says. "The dog was originally called Bruno when he was micro chipped, so I knew this was not a hoax. When the man emailed me a picture, and I knew it was Deacon, I called my husband. We were so thrilled that we drove 10 hours to Florida to pick him up."
The Holts believe Deacon was stolen by people who had hoped to breed him, but they were unaware that he had been fixed so it was a waste of time. And somehow, the dog ended up in the Sunshine State for the holidays.
"Deacon was in a pen with another dog when he saw us," Holt recalls. "He trampled the poor thing to get to us. He ran to my husband and jumped on him. He was so excited."
The following day, when they got back to Virginia after the 600 mile drive, Deacon ran directly over to the outside window of Brooklyn's bedroom, hoping to see her.
"He cried and cried until she got home," Holt says. "Once he saw her, he was so happy!"
Even though there is no leash law in their area, the family has vowed to tie their dog in the yard so nothing ever happens again.
"We are blessed to have Deacon back," Holt says. "And will do what we must to keep him safe and sound."